Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The light turns yellow and the woman begins to blow the car horn, flips him off, and screams profanity and curses at the man. The man, looks up, sees the yellow light and accelerates through the intersection just as the light turns red.
The woman is beside herself, screaming as she misses her chance to get through the intersection. As she is still in mid-rant she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the barrel of a gun held by a very serious-looking policeman. The policeman tells her to shut off her car while keeping both hands in sight. She complies, speechless at what is happening.
After she shuts off the engine, the policeman orders her to exit her car with her hands up. She gets out of the car and he orders her to turn and place her hands on her car, then handcuffs her and takes her to the police station where she is fingerprinted, photographed, searched, booked, and placed in a cell.
After a couple of hours, she is let out of the cell and escorted back to the booking desk where the original officer is waiting with her personal effects. He says, “I’m really sorry for this mistake. But, you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally I assumed you had stolen the car.”
It would seem that many have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to the topic of Christianity and Christians. I recently read a bumper sticker that said, “I’ve got nothing against God. It’s his fan club that I can’t stand.” Not necessarily original, you have all probably heard the Gandhi quote from several years ago, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” However, the Christian “image” seems to be deteriorating even more these days, there was a picture going around on Facebook: Jesus was walking down an old dusty road with Hitler seeming to have a very intent conversation with him. Worse, Jesus had a backpack and a rifle slung over his shoulder. I wrote a caption in my head for that one, Jesus said to Hitler, “So, how did you decide which ones could be members and which ones couldn’t? Oh… and what did you do with the ones that didn’t agree with you?” Christians are getting a bad name, but its really no wonder, so called Christians run around with placards declaring such things as “God Hates Fags” and others are quite comfortable with judging and categorically condemning to Dante’s ninth level of hell anyone who disagrees with their theology.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am in no way lumping you all in with these Christians. I am not suggesting that you are guilty of this type of behavior. In fact, what I have seen of you is quite the opposite, you all actually seem to be quite compassionate and loving. You are not guilty of this behavior, but in the eyes of many in the world today, you ARE guilty. In a sense, guilty by association, because we all live under the banner of Christianity.
For some, the appropriate response is to separate, attempt to isolate themselves, and shout with their loudest voices, “We are different! We are better! We have the answer!” Does this resolve anything? No. In all likelihood, it only compounds the original problem because Christians begin fighting with other Christians and the rest of the world sits back and laughs at the hypocrisy. At the other end of responses, we have some who will simply walk away, disillusioned and frustrated with their experience with Christianity, because they had believed it was something different. They believed it held meaning for their lives and answers to life’s questions, and discovered it was no different – if not worse – than the secular world. In between those to extremes is really just a great deal of apathy.
Is there a way out? Absolutely. The answer lies in answering one simple question: “Who is my neighbor?”
Our Gospel reading today is probably one of the most familiar: The parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the story after one of the rabbis asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life… Jesus answer is simple, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul.. and love your neighbor as yourself.” However, the rabbi was more interested in one upping Jesus than actually seeking knowledge, so he added a followup question, “Who is my neighbor.” In response, Jesus tells the parable…
A man – presumably Jewish – was attacked on a road and left for dead. A priest comes by, but does not stop to help. Another of the religious leaders comes by, but he does not stop to help either. It is the Samaritan that comes across the dying man and it is he that helps. To fully understand the parable, we must understand two important details of the story, 1) the relationship between Jews and Samaritans and 2) the perspective that the parable is being told from.
First Jews and Samaritans… the best way to understand that relationship is to look at the state of Jewish / Arab relations today. There may not have been open warfare between Jew and Samaritan, but the animosity between the two groups is similar to Jews and Arabs today – they don’t get along!
Second, generally we place the perspective of the parable on the Samaritan. He is the one deciding who his neighbor is. However, the perspective is actually the injured Jewish man and whether he can decide who HIS neighbor is. Bishop N. T. Wright – the Bishop of Durham, puts it this way, “Can you – that is, the injured Jewish man – Can you recognize the hated Samaritan as your neighbor? If you can’t, you might be left for dead.” Imagine, lying on the side of the road, beaten and bloody, half dead. Several people, maybe even your priest, see you, but can’t be bothered with stopping – too busy or whatever – and then, the one person you detest, despise, loathe more than anyone else comes by and instead of pointing at you and laughing and declaring, “I see you’ve finally gotten what you deserve!” Instead of doing any of that, they stop and begin to offer you help. What do you do? Because you detest, despise and loathe them.. are you going to tell them to stop? To get away from you? Or, are you going to think to yourself, “Perhaps this isn’t such a bad fella after all? Perhaps this person is my real neighbor?”
The world around us has a very poor view of Christianity. We are not going to change the world’s view, but.. but.. we – St. Luke’s Episcopal Church may be able to change our communities view of Christianity. We can show them that we are willing to set aside race, creed, politics, financial status, all of it… we can show them we are willing to set it all aside for one very simple reason… We want to serve.. we want to love.. In the process, they might decide that we are not such bad neighbors after all.
Will our community – the wounded and the injured – will our community know we are their neighbor if we shout out what we like or don’t like? Who we agree with or who we disagree with? By our staunch view on this topic or that? No. They’ll know what we think and maybe, rightly or wrongly what we believe, but they will not know us as their neighbors. Jesus said, “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
We can change our communities view of Christianity by choosing to serve sacrificially as Jesus served.. by choosing to be true and faithful neighbors. We can change our communities view of Christianity by choosing.. to love.. with no exceptions.
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him– that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Brennan Manning – a Roman Catholic priest – tells the story of the time during the 70’s that he was living in a monastery in New York. It seems that while living there he had numerous millionaire friends who enjoyed his company and would invite him out. He recalls on one occasion being invited to a swank restaurant and a Broadway play. During the intermission, he and his friends went out for some fresh air and engaged in a rather highbrow conversation regarding the play.
Soon after healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Walking up to a department store’s fabric counter, an attractive young woman said, “I want to buy this material for a new dress. How much does it cost?”… “Only one kiss per yard,” replied the smirking male clerk…. Not to be taken back by the harassment, the woman said, “That’s fine! I’ll take ten yards.”… With expectation and anticipation written all over his face, the clerk hurriedly measured out and wrapped the cloth, then held it out teasingly, leaning forward to receive his “payment.”… The woman snapped up the package and pointed to a little old man standing beside her. “Grandpa will pay the bill,” she smiled.
I suppose we all experience disappointment to one degree or another everyday… it might be something as trivial as not getting what we ordered at a restaurant.. or something more serious such as a setback at work or bad news from the Doctor.. or even disappointment in another person…
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
The Greek God Dionysius found his old schoolmaster and foster father, the Satyr Silenus, missing. It seems that the old satyr had been drinking wine and had wandered away drunk, later to be found by some Phrygian peasants, who carried him to their king, where he promptly proceeded to pass out in the king’s rose garden. Well.. turns out that the king recognized him and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness while Satyr entertained the king and his friends with stories and songs. On the eleventh day, the king brought the Satyr back to Dionysus in Lydia and for a reward.. Dionysus offered the king his choice of whatever reward he wished for. The King.. asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold.
We can find ourselves in the same place… I ain’t ever found peace.. I’ve never found happiness… Why?.. because we lack the humility and we fail to give the time necessary to pursue the one thing that will bring true happiness. Not a momentary happiness that fades with the spark of a new challenge or pursuit, but a happiness… a joy.. that endures even through the most intense of storms… a joy that comes only from God.